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What Does a Perfect Friend Look Like?

Friendship researcher Jessica Ayers finds out.

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On Saturday, February 23, 2019, members of the Aktipis Cooperation and Conflict Lab were out strutting their stuff for the Arizona State University Open Door event. Jessica Ayers (http://www.jessicadayers.org/) is a graduate student interested in “gaining a better understanding of the nuances of female psychology, from the cradle to the grave”. As part of her exploration, she asked people to draw their perfect friend. I love this concept. Everyone, especially the  little kids, had no problems envisioning their perfect friend. (I used to have one when I was in sixth grade but she decided I wasn’t a friend any longer after she chipped her front tooth. I never did figure that out). The images combine, imagination, language, dogs, and ice cream. What’s not to like? I asked Jessica about her thoughts about friends and this is what she said.

“So, for me, the first thing that comes to mind is how complex making friends actually is and how effortless we make it seem. My research suggests that humans have preferences when making friends (shocker!) and it is pretty wild to think that those preferences seem to be similar across people. It also is kinda cool that the set of traits people seem to really value in their friends are traits that show intrinsic valuation in the friendship (i.e., being reliable, trustworthy, honest, etc.) as opposed to traits that signal more interest in the instrumental value your friend brings to the friendship (i.e., providing material benefits, providing opportunities to meet new people).

I think one of the big things we don't know currently is if there are reliable patterns/ strategies that people use when making friends. Do people only make a few friends that have intrinsic valuation traits then prioritize those with instrumental traits? Where is the trade-off between these kinds of traits, and does it tell us anything important about how we organize our friendship groups? All of these seem to be pretty big open questions (though there are some awesome researchers such as Jaimie Krems, Joy Wycoff, Ashley Rankin, Jennifer Byrd-Craven, Adar Eisenbruch, and others who are all working in a similar space about what makes good friends/ what we look for)”.

I’ll probably never know why my childhood best friend dumped me but you never know, maybe Jessica will find out for me.